Well, I've officially been here a week (!), though it seems a lot longer at this point. I'm glad I have so much time still to come, because I'm honestly been rather pathetic in seeing important tourist sights. Shame shame. But here are a couple photos (aka all the ones I've taken thus far: practically none to speak of). There are much better pictures of all of these if you google the places I mention, but these have the distinction of being taken by yours truly.
Feldherrnhalle (if it looks vaguely familiar, it's probably because
some guy named Adolf Hitler used to make a lot of rather famous
speeches standing on it, most notably the Beer-Hall Putsch of 1923.)
Now that I've committed the faux pas-est of faux pas-s (how does one pluralize that?) by mentioning Hitler in a blog about Germany, let's move on to some more practical knowledge.
I'm nearly through my first real week of au pair-ing. I know everyone's chomping at the bit to find out just how I fill my days here, so hey, I'll fill you in!
Anne and Michael get the kids up in the morning and take them to kindergarten (NOT to be confused with school; that's for the big kids. I got a lecture on that today from Kilian.). So what do you do, Laura, I hear you ask. Well, this week I've managed to sleep in until about 10:30 every day. Dull though that may sound, it's really quite an achievement as new bathrooms are being put in this week, starting with the bathroom about eight feet from my room. Ear plugs and a pillow over my head, combined with my sheer determination to sleep in make for a not-very-restful morning, but it's still quite lovely.
My basic daily chores are usually quite easy. I unload the dishwasher and wash the dishes from the family's breakfast, wipe counters, et cetera. I vacuum the floor. (To vacuum once a day seemed quite extravagant and/or unnecessary to me at first, but that's just my utter ignorance of living with children talking. Once a day isn't enough). Today I had the added task of emptying the washing machine and ironing the clean laundry.
Let's take a brief cultural sidetrip as I enlighten you as to the European perspective on laundry. In the US, it's pretty simple. We've got our whites and darks (some choose to be more picky), throw those into the washing machine. Half an hour later, throw them into the dryer on permanent press with a lovely-scented dryer sheet and go paint nails whilst clothes dry. Three-quarters of an hour later, clothes are dry, clean, ready-to-wear. But alas, not so, so not so in Germany. Now Europe as a whole is vastly more environmentally conscious than we in the States tend to be. We can barely recycle and they have state-run compost piles! It's incredible. Now, one of the biggest energy wasters appears to be the innocent-seeming clothes dryer. Solution? Don't use it! Huzzah! Global warming averted!
Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of being environmentally sound and conserving energy. But oi. Naive little hausmädchen that I am, I Skyped for about an hour and a half this morning then headed down around 12:15 to do the wash and ironing, thinking it'd be a brief twenty minutes or so and then I could make my -- (I really want to say lunch, but I confess it was my breakfast. Bad Laura). Oh, but no. All of the wash in the washing machine has to come out and be hung on the lines stretched throughout the laundry room. If I was uncomfortable with my family at all, knowing what types of underwear they all wear has removed some sort of boundary, at least. Also, I feel like they use pretty sub-par detergent, because a lot of those clothes smelled. Mentioning that after talking about underwear is making this more graphic than I've intended, so no, that's not what I meant. Anyway, hanging the clothes up took c. 20 minutes, maybe.
The consequences of hanging things on a line to dry is that, once dry, said clothes are stiff, crunchy, and incredibly wrinkled. So yes, virtually everything has to be ironed. My kingdom for a dryer sheet! Though I was taught to iron at my grandmother's knee at the tender age of six (you think I'm joking...), this is a whole different can of worms. Jeans, sweaters, dresses, dress shirts, everything under the sun....suffice to say that by the time I emerged from my underground ironing lair, it was about 3:00 (or 15:00, if we're being properly European) and the time for breakfast was really past.
At about 3:45 I set off to the kindergarten to collect the kids. It's about a mile walk or so, but through very un-busy streets and lovely neighborhoods. The problem is getting them home once I've picked them up. Yesterday I just had Cliona, as Kilian had gone home with a friend, and she decided she was too tired to ride her bike after about an eighth of a mile, so the rest of the way home was me rolling her bike with one hand and holding her hand with the other (in a cute sort of hunchback walk) and singing the red-orange-yellow rainbow song over and over. Note to self: never teach the kids a song unless I want to sing it at least fifteen times in the next hour. Today Cliona assured me she wasn't too tired to ride her bike (never falling for that one again), so off we went, this time with Kilian. We'd just made it out of the circle where the kindergarten is, Cliona already complaining she was too tired, when the pedal broke off of Kilian's bike. With both of them in tears, I wasn't about to try and carry the both of them the whole way home, so we turned around for the nearest bus stop.
If you've ever tried to take a crying child on the bus, you can imagine the looks I got. Now multiply that by two screaming children and two bicycles. Cliona, sobbing wildly, wouldn't get off her bike to get on, despite the two-foot gap between the curb and the bus, so I was forced to pick her and her bike up and shove them onto the bus. I'm still amazed we made it back to the house with both kids and both bikes. Longest ride of my life. Luckily both were exhausted enough by the time we made it home that they agreed to sit and read stories until it was time for dinner.
Jumping back in time, the important anecdote I missed from yesterday was the trip to the playground. Cliona (who is newly potty-trained) suddenly saw fit to inform me that she had to go to the toilet, then about fifteen seconds later, informed she that she had just "Kaka gemacht." To put this in perspective, I've never even changed a diaper before. That was fun.
Last night both kids refused to eat scrambled eggs (of all the harmless things...), but tonight they were much happier with fish fingers (yum?). Halfway through their dinner, home come their parents, and Laura breathes a sigh of relief.
And there you have my glamorous life as an au pair! Sound like fun?
Some brief other anecdotes about my activities:
On Sunday I went with the family to the Freibad (public swimming pool). Much nicer than any you'd find in the states, but I will tell you with assurance that European swim garb is just as revealing as you would expect. Perhaps more so. I've had my fill of European man-thighs for at least a year.
Monday night was a trip to the Hofbräuhaus (I know, how touristy can you get) with a girl I'd met on Toytown, the online forum for English-speakers living in Germany. It was noisy and crowded and a lot of fun, though the band of the night was, instead of an oompah band, some guys in Rasta shirts doing covers of Bob Marley.
Yesterday I had the fun opportunity to try and converse with several workman doing important things with the bathroom. With one of them I could just smile and nod, but another started asking me pointed questions about (I think) how many outlets were supposed to be in the bathroom, and another was inquiring about leaving tiles in garages and packages coming, and I threw up my hands and called my host mom to talk to them. My German is pretty good, but (I haven't yet figured out a way to say this without sounding horribly stuck-up) most manual laborers/workers tend to speak in Bayrisch (Bavarian), and the language is really almost entirely unintelligible from Hochdeutsch, or high German.
Tonight I headed out to the German Speaking Night (or Stammtisch) hosted by the Toytown group. They have these bi-weekly at local bars or beer gardens. The only requirement is to speak German the entire night, and I actually did myself fairly proud. Of course, it's a lot easier to speak German with people who won't catch your mistakes, but it did take a lot of the fear away. And of course, as many people told me, it is a lot easier after a couple of beers!
I apologize for the scatterbrain-ed-ness of this entry, but it's late and life has been a bit scattered lately. But I'm having a blast! People have started asking me for directions in public places now and I feel super special when I know what they're talking about. All a work-in-progress!
As a closer, I just want to say I'm so grateful and happy to have so many people looking at my blogs! (Though who knows if they all make it this far in the entries....) It's a blast to have you all sharing my adventures with me, and I'm enormously appreciative. Drop me a message and tell me how you're doing sometime. I miss you all!